ALICIA ALONSO 90TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION AT ABT

Last night was a very special night at ABT; the company put on a special show in honor of Alicia Alonso, the former ABT ballerina from Cuba who’s credited with bringing ballet to Latin America and bringing Latin American stars to the world, who turned 90 years old this year.

The evening began with a short film including interviews with Alonso reflecting on her career and clips of her dancing. The most amazing such clip was at the end of her dancing, I think La Sylphide, and she was doing tiny but incredibly, insanely fast-footed passees back and forth and back and forth; she was going so fast she looked like a hummingbird.  The audience went wild.

Then Kevin McKenzie came out, gave a brief intro, and said, “This evening’s for you,” while motioning up to the parterre. Ms. Alonso slowly rose – she was in the center of the parterre, and everyone rose with her, giving her a long standing ovation. She looked really beautiful in a long blue sparkly gown with her signature full, flowing headscarf  (this one blue and sparkling, to match her gown). Amazing how she seemed to acknowledge everyone in the room as she looked all around with a serene smile on her face. Especially since she has supposedly been nearly blind for the past 20 years and likely couldn’t see any of us. Anna Deavere Smith has defined Presence as having the ability to make it seem to each and every audience member like you’re singling him/her out from the crowd, looking right at them, dancing right for them. So clearly Ms. Alonso has that!

Then, the show began. It was Don Quixote, with a different couple playing the lead in each Act, most of them the company’s principal dancers from Latin America. First Act couple was Marcelo Gomes and Paloma Herrera (from Brazil and Argentina respectively), second was Herman Cornejo (Argentina) and Xiomara Reyes (Cuba), and third was Jose Carreno (Cuba) dancing with the beyond wondrous Natalia Osipova (from Russia, the only dancer playing one of the leads who’s not from Latin America).

It was very fitting that Carreno danced the third Act since he’s the only dancer still in the company who Alonso directly trained (though her daughter, Laura, who continues to run the school, which travels all over Latin America, has had a hand in training the rest).

Carreno is 42 now and I’m always so scared every time I see him this season that this is the last performance of whatever I’m seeing that I’ll watch him dance. I hope this isn’t the last Don Quixote because he’s so perfect for Basilio. More on his and Natalia’s full-length Don Quixote (on Tuesday night) to come, but suffice it to say for now, he is the absolute king of turns, the way he holds onto those last few pirouettes in a series of multiple turns. Sometimes he’ll just stand on one leg at the end and hold the balance forever. And she wins the award for most insane dance genius. I can’t even begin to go into everything she does that makes the crowd go nuts (the sky-high jumps that make it seem she must have springs in her shoes!, the fouettes with the bizillions of multiple pirouettes thrown in, the passees – and high passees at that –  that she does at the speed of frigging light), and she’s the perfect playful, flirty Kitri to boot. Before seeing her dance this role I was going to complain that no one has the charisma and ability of Gelsey Kirkland (whom I’ve only seen on video) but I can’t say that anymore.

Herman Cornejo is of course king of jumps, and his jetes in the second act were absolutely breathtaking (people were talking about them all intermission). And Marcelo is the king of drama – I’ve said before and will say again that he could have a career in Hollywood after his dance career ends — he’s always wholly in the character (ditto for Veronika Part, who stole the stage as Mercedes, the street dancer, and was absolutely beautiful as the Queen of the Dryads), and he’s larger than life with flawless technique to boot.

Other non-main-character standouts were Daniil Simkin as the gypsy (he arched so far back in his jumps he made himself into a perfect ball, and his ability to do several of those barrel turns with one and half rotations all in a row always draws the “OOOOOOOOOHHHH”s from the crowd), and Misty Copeland was full of athletic prowess, as usual. She also cracked me up when she and Marcelo were onstage together at the beginning flirting naughtily right in front of Kitri. She is another very actorly type. I also thought Luciana Paris did well as the female part of the gypsy couple. Even in light of Daniil’s audience wowing theatrics, she held her own with some beautiful full back arches and lovely styling with her arms and hands.

The evening came to a perfect end as, at the end of the last Natalia / Jose curtain call, the curtains closed, then opened to reveal the whole stage, and Jose walking Alicia Alonso out from the wings. Judging by the number of heads turning around to the parterre, where she’d been sitting, I think the audience was hopeful that she’d come out onstage but worried she might not, so everyone stayed waiting, and was very happy when she did. Ovation lasted for quite a while; I don’t think anyone wanted to leave, but the company was having a party for her afterward (which I didn’t go to but a friend did – I’m waiting for the report) so had to kind of limit the length of curtain calls. Very very special evening!

Top image from Voice of Dance; two middle images from Cuba Absolutely.

Here’s a video of Jose dancing DQ with Gillian Murphy  – the ones of him dancing with Paloma have disabled embedding, and horribly, the video from Born to Be Wild with Alicia talking about him has been taken off of YouTube :(

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